Monday, August 1, 2011

Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow (SNES) Review

AKA Donald in Maui Mallard [EU/BRA/JP]
1995, 1996 Eurocom/Disney Interactive/Nintendo

Reviewed: July 31st-August 1st
When I was little I grew up with Game Boy and PlayStation when I still lived in Italy, and the SNES and Nintendo 64 consoles whenever I visited relatives. But, I also had a bit of experience with playing video games on my PC growing up. Some games were PC originals, w
hile other games were ports of classic titles from arcade and MegaDrive titles. Maui Mallard was one of them. Originally released for the MegaDrive (in Europe and Brazil), from what I had played when I was little, I thought it was a pretty cool game. I never finished it when I was little, but I liked the concept of turning into a ninja whenever you collected Yin Yang power. Sadly, as the years went by, computers had evolved, and my PC copy of the game could not work on newer models. Having not played the game for several years, I decided to give it another go in October '10, only for the SNES console. I looked up that the PC port was closer to the MegaDrive original than the SNES game, but that didn't bother me much. When I relived the experience of turning into a ninja, it was absolutely great. But does it hold up?

On an uncharted island, the idol Shabuhm Shabuhm has been abducted by an evil Witch Doctor. It has been said that the idol is the island's guardian, and unless it's retrieved, the island will meet its terrible, inevitable fate. While visiting the island, a "medium-boiled" detective named Maui Mallard (portrayed by Donald Duck) decides to investigate this mystery and will try to get it back for the islanders before it's too late. The last place it was seen before its disappearance was at the Mojo Mansion, and from there you will peruse and traverse various locales like a ninja training ground, a village, the inside of a volcano, and even in the Realm of the Dead. The plot itself is pretty neat, and at times it can be quite humorous and other times it can be quite dark. What baffles me the most about this SNES version is that back when it was released in North America, all allusions to Donald Duck were removed, and is just known as Maui Mallard. It doesn't make sense, as it's just mysterious to me (he looks like him, we all know it's him). But I'm thinking about it too much.
This game has good play control. Maui Mallard is an action-platformer with open-ended level design (similar to how Cool Spot and Disney's The Jungle Book are). The controls can be customized in the options screen, but I choose to use the defeault controls, which admittedly feel awkward the first time around but soon become accustomed to. This game has several areas (or "levels" as the game calls them), which are all split into portions (or "stages"). The action controls are very responsive, and the jumping controls are nice, although they feel a bit loose at times. What's pretty cool about this game is that you get to play as a character who will transform into a ninja, provided you have enough Yin Yang power at your disposal. You start off as Maui Mallard, who uses a bug-shooting gun for a weapon. There's the standard bug weapon, which replenishes itself to its maximum capacity no matter how much it's used; the lightning bug, which acts as a spread gun; and there's the fire bug, which homes in on enemies. You can switch between the bug weapons via the L and R shoulder buttons, and you can even choose to combine the lightning and fire bug weapons to form up an even stronger homing shot. From the second level (Ninja Training Grounds) onward, you will be granted the ability to turn into the ninja Cold Shadow. In order to change into Maui's ninjaesque alter ego, you must collect some Yin Yang power. Cold Shadow has got many moves in his disposal than Maui does. As him you can do combo moves with your bo staff against enemies, but don't over exceed the combo too much, otherwise you'll use up some of your Yin Yang power. By holding either the L or R shoulder button as Cold Shadow, you will unleash a spinning bo staff attack on your enemies, however it will quickly deplete you of your power in the process. To be honest, as potent and cool-looking as it is, it's not exactly necessary, and it's not something I would suggest doing. I say that because while you might be attacking an enemy on one side, you may be left vulnerable to attack from the other side, and that's why I choose not to do it often. Throughout the game, there will be moments where you will have to alternate between forms in order to get through the area; Maui's the only one who can climb up ropes and vines, and Cold Shadow's the only one who can swing off of swining poles. Maui can also use his gun as propulsion underwater, and Cold Shadow can also use his bo staff as a method of climbing upward when it comes to gaps that are as long as the staff.

Maui Mallard's soundtrack is good, and much of its music is quite varied in style and sound. Each of the music gives a lot of atmosphere to the areas they're played in. To name some examples: the ninja training grounds music sounds ambient and oriental; the volcano music sounds oddly relaxing with all the calypso playing in the background; the Flying Duckman theme is very breahtaking and hauntingly ambient (one of my favorite songs in the game); and the music that plays when you bout with the Witch Doctor sounds like something a mariachi band would play (but not before a foreboding prelude commences). There are even a few songs that sound really playful in their own way while still maintaining that dark flavor. There is also one song that stands out the most to me and is the best song from the game in my mind: the Realm of the Dead. It strikes me as an ominously haunting sea shanty with an air full of eeriness, and I felt very nervous the first time I heard it. The sound effects, on the other hand, are decent. The sound of the bug bullects coming out of Maui's gun is silly, and there is even a sound effect for when you turn around on foot. Whenever your character takes a hit and/or loses a life, he makes that trademark Donald Duck "quack" sound. The sound for when Maui transforms into Cold Shadow, and vice versa, is sweet; and I enjoy the sound of the latter's bo staff whenever it hits an object or an enemy. Whenever you're swimming, the sound effects become bubbly and are then followed by echo sounds. Other sound effects are nice, too, such when a MudDrake would shout "There he is!" whenever they see you in the Test of Brotherhood level, or whenever an enemy has been vanquished.

There is one word that describe this game's visuals, and that word is gorgeous. But to say that would be a huge understatement. Maui Mallard's worlds are vibrant, colorful, detailed, and very atmospheric, plus they're all presented with that trademark Disney quality. This game has one of the best non pre-rendered visuals I've seen from an SNES title. It's got better visuals than the first ActRaiser, Cool Spot, Mr. Nutz, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, and Secret of Mana; I would even go and say that this game has better visuals than Super Metroid (which says a lot). But I digress. Each world has its own look and distinctive style, which is always nothing short of impressive. In the beginning of the ninja training grounds, the sky is very bright and cheerful, but then once the Witch Doctor appears he transforms Maui into Cold Shadow for the first time, and whenever he uses his staff, the sky will get darker and darker until the Witch Doctor vanishes and it begins to rain. I just love little details like that. The MudDrake Mayhem levels have a really neat fog effect, which gives off a lot of depth. The Sacrifice of Maui levels take place inside a volcano, and that place is entirely consumed with flowing lava that covers the whole screen and makes you feel like you're inside a volcano. The Flying Duckman levels, taking place underwater, are serene and largely take place in the sunken ship; what's eerie about it is that you can see how decrepit the ship has turned after a long time of being sunken and you can see the skeletal remains of the crew. The Realm of the Dead is pretty ominous-looking, with all the bones and the mist at the bottom, not to mention a gigantic eyeball in the background that is surveying you throughout the whole level. That's pretty eerie if you ask me. The bonus levels take place on an actual stage, with literal stage props that you can jump and bounce on. I love how the cutscenes are comprised of a blue background and show the characters' silhouettes. The character and enemy animations are fluidly detailed and well-done. Maui's running, ducking, shooting, jumping, climbing, and swimming animations are really nice to watch. The transformation sequence from Maui to Cold Shadow and vice versa is really cool, and the ninja alter ego has cool animations as well. I like how depending on how much Yin Yang power you have, Cold Shadow will have a differently-colored belt, which is a nice touch. Either forms' idle animations are cool and fun to watch, too. The characters and enemies even display a bit of over-the-top animation sometimes, which is often quite humorous. There is one moment in the MudDrake Mayhem level when Maui shrunk down to a very small size until you reach the end of that portion, and what's pretty cool is that despite his size, his animations remain fully intact. That's similar to one moment in the early PlayStation One title Rayman. The enemies look cool, too, and whenver you attack a zombie duck in the Realm of the Dead it actually decomposes the more hits it takes. The MudDrakes are also one crazy bunch, as they try to attack you by shooting poison-tipped darts and use their saw blades as yo-yos.

As far as challenge goes for this Disney-licensed title, it's decent. The levels are split off into different parts, each littered with enemies who will try to stop you in your tracks. The majority of the level designs are open-ended and complex, with a few of them being completely straightforward. In each of the areas, save for the Realm of the Dead, there will be a moment when you must fight a boss in order to progress. Many of the stages are long, so when you reach a chekc point (represented by a Mojo duck head) you don't have to worry about starting all over. This game has rather interesting ways of challenging you; one example that comes to mind is when you have to drop off each MudDrake at a safe point in an area by bungee jumping and trying your absolute best to not touch the spikes a lot, one by one. Who knows how long it must've taken for the programmers to come up with that? There are also some challenges which will have you be attentive; mostly the self-scrolling stages. In one of those areas (the Realm of the Dead) you're required to shoot every single soul stealer which will try to pry the soul of Quackoo away from you, but should just one be missed, you lose a life and must start over again; not to mention the slowly rising acidic mist which you must escape at all costs. Throughout each area there are refreshments that will either increase your health capacity for that area, and/or help replenish a portion (cup) or maximum (pitcher) health. Maui Mallard has three difficulty settings, and there's no real difference, except for one thing: the amount of health you lose. While the enemies and bosses will always take the same amount of damage before they bite the dust, you will be losing a different amount of damage depending on which difficulty setting you play. You will take far more damage in Hard mode than you will on either Easy and Normal modes. If you're not careful while fighting the Witch Doctor on the hardest difficulty setting, you will lose a life in three hits. But there is an advantage in the game which will ensure that you can beat the game on Hard mode. While you take a lot of damage when an enemy attacks you, if you intentionally collide with the enemy, you'll only lose one health point. You just have to be careful that while you take advantage of it you don't get hit by that enemy in the process, so that way you'll dish out a lot of hits towards your enemy or boss; I used this tactic to defeat the Witch Doctor on Hard mode. I don't recommend using this method throughout the whole game, otherwise you'll be having a hard time throughout the whole game. I only suggest doing it while fighting against the Witch Doctor on Hard mode. This game can either be beaten in one sitting, or it can be beaten via passwords. I don't use the passwords, really, but those that may have trouble with Maui Mallard will find themselves using them. After each level there is a bonus area, but in order to access it you have to collect as much of the treasure as you can. It's not exactly mandatory, but if you wish to enter the bonus area and get the password, you have no choice. Scattered throughout each level is treasure, so a good thorough look in each area is highly advised. After each level, you will be shown a screen with two percentages: Luau Loot and Loot Found. If you found more loot than the Luau Loot, you'll get an "Admit One Duck" ticket to the bonus area Babaluau Baby. Here's the thing about the passwords: you have to earn them. In each bonus area, you must light up six rockets either on top of a sun or a moon prop before time runs out; since the setup is huge, you will have to bounce on star props and jump from cloud props. You'll also get a chance to collect a few exctra lives should you find them. This game has unlimited continues, which is quite helpful at times.

What can I say about Maui Mallard? It's fun, it's immersive, it's dark, it's crazy, and it perhaps holds the most wacky environment from a DIsney Interactive game I've seen (before Epic Mickey came out, that is). The visuals are spectacular and present a good amount of atmosphere, not to mention the over-the-top animation is a big plus in my book. The soundtrack works so well for this game, and the controls are spot-on, save for the jumping controls. Switching between Maui Mallard and Cold Shadow is a very innovative concept, and something I enjoy doing a lot. The areas are well-constructed and designed, and I like how each area tries to challenge you. It just boggles my mind how the bungee jumping challenge was actually implemented in this game. The cutscenes were enthralling, and fun to watch. The boss battles were cool, even the one with the Witch Doctor. Now I know that the strategy I shared in defeating him on Hard mode may seem a bit cheap, but to those readers out there that have played this game and beaten it, let me ask you something: how can you possibly dodge his fume attacks with precise timing and not take damage from them? It's a strategy that I found out incidently, and it worked out so well in the end, though it will take a bit of time to get the hang of that. The enemies are a great bunch, though I have to say that I absolutely loathe the fly enemies. When I played it on the PC when I was little, I thought it was a pretty good experience, and when I played it on the SNES, I found it to be better than ever. It's not perfect, but it's fun. The ending was humorous, and pretty good, too. It's just a shame that it did not get a follow-up. It had so much potential for a sequel, but the ending implied that there was going to one, only it never happened. But, oh, well, Maui Mallard is a good game, and I like the challenge it offers. This is one game that will take a bit of perseverence to get through. If you wish to experience a Disney title with ninja elements, then this is the game for you.


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